exaltation of together
The big summit of your 20s is learning how to be alone.
I could write you a list of the events and meals and quiet moments that I skipped in my fear of loneliness, or I could just tell you this. I have “6222 Rose Street'' memorized, the address of the college house where seven of my closest friends lived, whereas I don’t have the faintest idea of what my own San Diego address was. At my friends’ house, I would sit on the sunken couch for long stretches of morning waiting for someone to peer out of their room, sleepy-eyed and slipper-clad, and accompany me on a mundane trip to the store or out for lunch. I could have gone by myself, but I needed companionship to make the maintenance of my life worthwhile. In my frailness, I preferred loitering amongst half-finished boba drinks and year-round string lights to going out into the big, bad world all by my lonesome.
I’m better now, I think. Or at least better at faking it. Less adherent to the idea that someone my age needs to be surrounded by people all the time - that if I’m not, it’s a sign that I’m unlikeable and unloved.
As part of my reformation, I took a solo trip to Oita Prefecture, home of famous hot springs and not home to anyone I know. I planned to write a blog on the experience, entitle it “Dating Myself in Beppu” and write happily and tidily about the positives of spending time alone. And that’s what I did, mostly, but the writing felt flat and regurgitated and brittle - my words dragging my mind towards a reverence of solitude, my heart left somewhere between codependency and connection. I sat on the blog for some time, busied myself by writing bad poetry, then decided to tell you the truth. Being alone is nice, yes, but being together is precious.
In my final semester of college, my phone broke and erased all photographic evidence of my undergrad years. When the Apple Genius Bar employee informed me that all my pictures were gone, I thanked him, then had a panic attack in the shopping mall parking lot. I cried until the windows of my car fogged over with anguish. I bargained, wondering whether I’d give a thousand dollars, five thousand dollars, a fingernail to get them back. I cried the next day too, despite knowing how silly it was to grieve for pixels on a screen. Digital dust worth nothing to everyone except me.
I mourned the symbolism of the photos more than the photos themselves. I mourned not being able to return to my prior states of mind, knowing I’d forget how I felt and what I thought was worthy of being captured and stored. I considered the entirety of my coming-of-age being captured through others’ eyes, slivered and hacksawed and peripheral, and wept.
For a time, I tried to recall the things that only I would know. Don’t forget about eating mangos on the beach. Don’t forget about your sorority sister’s tiny cat gnawing on your toe. Don’t forget about the market visits with your only local friend in Cambodia. Don’t forget about dancing in international nightclubs to Western mega-hits of the 80s. Don’t forget about that textured yellow skirt, and how the San Diego spring air pulsed with possibility, and how you felt falling in love and swearing it wasn’t so.
And then I forgot to stop forgetting, and I kept living. And everything was the same, despite a valuable era of my life existing nowhere except the leaking container of my mind.
When the dust cleared, I realized that I am more than my things. And I am only my things.
Did I lose something irreplaceable or did I retain everything that matters?
It’s a difficult question. But in pondering it, I gained the callousness to pursue minimalism with full intent. It taught me that everything I own is at once, deeply precious, and entirely expendable.